How To Grow Tree Peony (Paeonia suffruticosa) In Your Garden

Paeonia suffruticosa, or the tree peony, is a woody shrub that is native to China, Bhutan, and Tibet. It is a beautiful flowering shrub that blooms from the middle to late in spring.

The tree peony has beautiful flowers with many different varieties, ranging from single to double forms.

It can grow to be up to 10 feet (3 m) tall, but typically is about three to five feet (90 to 150 cm) in height.

The flowers can be up to eight inches (20 cm) in diameter.

Tree Peony Rose-series by 阿橋 HQ.

The tree peony makes for a popular ornamental plant, that looks great when grouped as a hedge. Plants can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 4-8, RHS zone H5.

It has medium green leaves and thick stems. The foliage is very attractive, even when the plants are not in bloom.

The flower buds have a reddish color.

The tree peony requires moist, well-drained soil that is rich in nutrients. It is also important to initially stake and protect the plant from the wind, as the stems can be fairly brittle.

This plant is tolerant of alkaline soils, heat, deer, and, rabbit browsing. However, it is not tolerant of drought and may have some light disease problems. Don't worry about ants on the plant, as they won't do any damage.

Prune the plant to help create lower branching and prevent legginess (Tree peonies tend to produce unusually long and weak stems) at the start of autumn.

Gardener's HQ Guide to Growing Paeonia suffruticosa

To grow a tree peony, it is best to plant in the autumn. They can be started through to the beginning of spring. Do not start any later, as the young plants are not tolerant of hotter and dryer weather,

Plant in a sheltered location that gets full sun to part shade, and has well-drained soil.

The soil should have a neutral pH, be fertile, and humus-rich.

Paeonia suffruticosa Cultivar 'Kamata-Nishiki' by F.D. Richards.

Bury the rootstock, so that the graft is buried six inches (15 cm) deep.

Water the roots regularly to help the plant settle in.

Following the plant's bloom, deadheading may help the strength of the foliage.

Tree peonies can be pruned in late winter to remove spent material.

Quick Growing and Care Guide

Scientific Name: Paeonia suffruticosa

Common Name (s): Tree Peony

Growing Zone (USA / UK Hardiness): USDA Zones 4 to 8/9; Europe and UK H5 – This makes it hardy to about -15 to -10°C (14 to 5°F).

Best Used For / Garden Location: Hedging, Borders, Accent plant for driveways. Looks great when grown in groups.

Plant Details

Life Cycle / Plant Type: Deciduous shrub, woody.

Plant Height: 3 to 5 feet (90 cm to 1.5 m).

Plant Spread: 3 to 4 feet (10 to 120 cm).

Blooms: Mid to late spring.

Flower Details: Showy large flowers. Diameter six to eight inches (15 to 20 cm). True type is typically pink or white. Numerous cultivars available, these may have pink, purple, red, white or yellow flowers. These take many forms, including single, double, and semi-double types.

Leaf Foliage: Oval to Lanceolate. Medium green colour.

Fruit: Seeds

Paeonia suffruticosa Cultivar 'TPG' by F.D. Richards.

Growing Conditions and Location

Best Light Conditions: Full sun through to partial shade.

Suitable Soil Types: Neutral acidity. Fertile. Humus.

Soil Moisture: Medium. Good drainage.

Sowing, planting, and Propagation: Usually grown from purchased grafted rootstocks to maintain trueness. Plant so that the graft is about six inches (15 cm) below the surface.

Seed grown tree peony will naturally hybridize, which could be interesting (or not). Sow split seeds at the start of autumn, in compost, at a depth of about 1 inch (2.5 cm). Cover the top of the pot / container with grit, and locate in a sheltered area. Roots should develop following the first winter, you will then need to wait a further year before seeing any signs of the stems and foliage. It may take up to five years to bloom.

Propagating can also be performed through layering, but will take a good three years before roots develop. Do not bother taking cuttings, they are unlikely to be a success.

Care: Do not cut back these woody shrubs to the ground (like you would with normal peonies). Prune off spent wood and suckers at the start of spring. Shape, and encourage the development of lower branches by pruning at the start of autumn. Provide a light mulch for the winter in colder regions. Do not transplant once established.

Growing in pots and containers: These plants produce deep roots, so not really ideal for small containers. Though seedlings can be grown in pots.

Further Information

Miscellaneous: Generally, pest free. Attracts butterflies to the garden. Fairly tolerant to attacks from rabbits and deer. Susceptible to leaf blight, canker, and scale.

Tree Peony Cultivar'Kinshi' by F.D. Richards.

Cultivars: Numerous cultivars are available. Popular ones include the wonderful red flowered 'Impumon'; the crinkled 'Sakura Jishidi', the creamy yellow  'Age of Gold', and the lacy  'Chinese Dragon'.

Family: Paeoniaceae.

Native: East Asia.

References and Further Reading: RHS Tree Peony Growing Guide; Tree Peony Varieties and Cultivars.

Common Questions

Do you cut back tree peonies in the spring or autumn?

Tree peonies can take some time to establish themselves, it's best to leave them untouched from pruning for the first two years.

Ideally, the best time to prune a tree peony is in the autumn, once blooming is complete.

How do you take care of a peony tree?

While they do require some special care to maintain their delicate blooms, peonies are actually quite easy to care for (Medium maintenance plant). With a little effort you can easily keep your peonies healthy and blooming for years to come.

Peonies need full sun to partial shade and well-drained, fertile soil. They are not particularly drought tolerant (especially when young), so provide extra water during extended dry spells.

Peonies should be mulched in the fall to help protect their roots from the cold winter weather if grown in USDA zone region 4.

Provide a prune in autumn to encourage branching, and one in early spring to remove ungainly material.

In the spring, peonies can be fertilized with manure. You may also wish to give a feed with fish emulsion following the end of blooming.

Black Tree Peony by 阿橋 HQ.

Do Tree peonies like sun or shade?

They do well in full sunlight or partial shade. Tree peonies will do best if planted in a sheltered area.

If you can find a spot that gets dappled sunlight, that could be ideal. Too much sun can scorch the leaves, and dry out the soil. Whereas, too much shade may make the flowers less vibrant.

How long does it take Peony plants to bloom?

Paeonia suffruticosa will seldom bloom in their first year, typically the odd flower may appear in the second year, and they will bloom properly in their third year. Seed grown Tree peonies usually take at least five years to come into flower.

What color flowers do Tree Peony have?

Paeonia suffruticosa cross-pollinates easily. The trees flowers naturally are pink or white. But the cultivars come in a range of colours, including purple, white, pink, red, and yellow.

They are not particularly scented, and the flowers may be singles, doubles, or semi-doubles. These woody shrubs can be very beautiful, and well-worth growing.

I hope that you enjoyed this guide on how to grow Paeonia suffruticosa. You may also enjoy the following growing guides: How to grow Sunflowers, and Stokesia. And these specific Peony guides: Paeonia Plant genus, and Paeonia officinalis (common Peony).

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